Jared K. Mueller

Confirmation Bias Big Thing at NFL Combine

While fans get excited about the NFL Combine, confirmation bias can be pretty obvious and problematic.

The NFL Combine is the start of NFL Draft season for most teams. For the Cleveland Browns, and their fans, Draft season seems to start earlier and earlier.

The Combine events that many focus on; 40 yard dash, bench press and vertical jump, are actually quite overblown in importance.

Andrew Berry made it clear what was important to him here at the Combine:


No matter how many times teams, and even many in the media, make statements about the Combine's primary importance being medical and interviews, we get excited for the measureables. There will be certainties coming out of the Combine, even though nothing in particular has changed. The players are the same, give or take, that they were the last time they stepped on the field as college players.

What is most interesting, and maybe problematic, is the amount of confirmation bias, finding what you are looking for and dismissing anything that doesn't match your preconceived notions, we see during the process.

The best example was this morning. WR Cooper Kupp ran a pedestrian 4.62 and 4.66 in his 40-yard dash. Many expected something better from him and the NFL Network crew backed that up. The confirmation bias with them was obvious. 'He plays fast.' 'He is a home run hitter.' 'What I saw in college says he can play with speed.' 

Even the analogy of "If he can hit home runs in Little League then in High School then in College, you can hit home runs in the pros."

It sounds great until you realize that it just isn't true. 

First, just because a player is successful through college doesn't mean they will be a success in the pros. Say hello to Charlie Ward, Tim Tebow and Trent Richardson for example.

Related to speed, a player can often look fast because of the Theory of Relativity. Many of you, for example, would look very fast playing against me. Kupp played against lesser combination at Eastern Kentucky where he could look fast due to his ability to run routes and physically separate.

If he had played at a bigger school, against better competition, Kupp would have "looked like a guy who would run around a 4.6."

The overall issue isn't bad thinking or evaluation but the problem with confirmation bias that is clearly running rampant.

Whether it is the media, fans or even NFL teams, you can see the information gathered at the Combine be used to fit an already established narrative.

For players that bias lends toward the positives, good numbers are propped up as proof while bad numbers are minimized, like Kupp.

For players that bias lends toward the negatives, bad numbers are hammered as an issue while good numbers are ignored or marginalized.

A personal example: I think Deshaun Watson is the best QB in this draft. When I look at his decision making, I see him pressing a lot. When I see his INTs, I am reminded that Matt Ryan and Jameis Winston also threw a ton of them.

As I evaluate him, I need to try to keep my bias in mind.

I encourage fans to do the same thing and also try to get an idea of the bias of the media members presenting to you. We know Nathan Zegura loves Jimmy Garoppolo, so the bias is clear with him for example.

Confirmation bias also can play a role as fans of Ohio State Buckeyes can often overemphasize the incoming Buckeyes.

Confirmation bias is not wrong. In fact, it is completely natural. Recognizing it and not allowing it to have a large impact on your thinking is far more important.

Where does confirmation bias impact you the most?

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